36.1. Interactive and non-interactive shells and scripts
An interactive shell reads
commands from user input on a tty. Among
other things, such a shell reads startup files on activation,
displays a prompt, and enables job control by default. The
user can interact with the shell.
A shell running a script is always a non-interactive
shell. All the same, the script can still access its
tty. It is even possible to emulate an
interactive shell in a script.
echo -n "$MY_PROMPT"
# This example script, and much of the above explanation supplied by
# Stéphane Chazelas (thanks again).
Let us consider an interactive
script to be one that requires input from the user, usually
with read statements (see Example 15-3). "Real life" is actually a
bit messier than that. For now, assume an interactive script
is bound to a tty, a script that a user has invoked from the
console or an xterm.
Init and startup scripts are necessarily non-interactive,
since they must run without human intervention. Many
administrative and system maintenance scripts are likewise
non-interactive. Unvarying repetitive tasks cry out for
automation by non-interactive scripts.
Non-interactive scripts can run in the background, but
interactive ones hang, waiting for input that never comes.
Handle that difficulty by having an expect
script or embedded here
document feed input to an interactive script running
as a background job. In the simplest case, redirect a
file to supply input to a read statement
(read variable <file). These particular
workarounds make possible general purpose scripts that run
in either interactive or non-interactive modes.
If a script needs to test whether it is running in an
interactive shell, it is simply a matter of finding
whether the prompt variable, $PS1 is set. (If the user is being
prompted for input, then the script needs to display a
if [ -z $PS1 ] # no prompt?
### if [ -v PS1 ] # On Bash 4.2+ ...
Alternatively, the script can test
for the presence of option "i" in the $- flag.
case $- in
*i*) # interactive shell
*) # non-interactive shell
# (Courtesy of "UNIX F.A.Q.," 1993)
However, John Lange describes
an alternative method, using the -t
# Test for a terminal!
fd=0 # stdin
# As we recall, the -t test option checks whether the stdin, [ -t 0 ],
#+ or stdout, [ -t 1 ], in a given script is running in a terminal.
if [ -t "$fd" ]
# But, as John points out:
# if [ -t 0 ] works ... when you're logged in locally
# but fails when you invoke the command remotely via ssh.
# So for a true test you also have to test for a socket.
if [[ -t "$fd" || -p /dev/stdin ]]
Scripts may be forced to run in interactive
mode with the -i option or with a
#!/bin/bash -i header. Be aware that
this can cause erratic script behavior or show error messages
even when no error is present.